BELFAST LEARNING: Five brilliant things about PSNI’s digital comms


One of the great delights of travelling is being able to see at close hand what other people are doing.

American writer Henry Miller once wrote that travel was never a destination but a new way of seeing things.

This is spot on for this week’s trip to Belfast to speak at the Northern Ireland Public Sector Communications Forum. A room of excellent people doing some really good work.

As a former in-house public sector communicator, the work of Police Service Northern Ireland really stood out. Had I still been in-house I’d want my organisation to be communicating online as they are.

Let me count you the ways PSNI’s Fiona Williamson impressed the heck out of me.

They share the sweets

It galls me that we are still faced with comms teams who won’t devolve access to social channels. I’d long thought that the argument between the Lord of the Rings-style One Corporate Account That Rules Them All had been settled. Share the sweets, for heavens sake.

So, they have accounts based on the areas they serve rather than a one-size-fits all account. If you live in East Belfast you want East Belfast news not news from Ards or Newry.

They have more than 30 Facebook and 20 Twitter accounts as well as YouTube and Instagram. They also have a single web page here where you can find the ones you want to follow.

They’ve made mistakes… and learned from them

Refreshingly, PSNI’s Fiona Williamson was honest about how they have got things wrong and the negative coverage that has attracted. But they’ve learned from it rather than shut down the operation.

One key early learning was to gather channels into a social media management tool to help co-ordinate responses and exercise a degree of control.

They pay attention to the Facebook comments in real time

Fiona spoke of a high-profile incident that generated more than 1,000 Facebook comments.

Having an officer work to monitor and delete comments where required is such a refreshing thing to see and hear. All to often incidents can bring out the worst in communities. The recent attacks on mosques in Birmingham, attracted some pretty vile comments on the Birmingham Live Facebook page, for example.

Unhelpful comments in policing terms I’m guessing can not only raise tension in a community but can also jeopardise an investigation.

This is probably the biggest single point of learning I took.

They have a good use of video for bigger incidents

The PSNI YouTube channel has a number of witness appeals and other pieces of content. Video footage clearly plays a role in what they do.

They resource social media just as much as the press office

This really caught my attention.

A decade on from the first UK public sector accounts and some teams still operate by tacking social media onto what their day job was a decade ago. Understandable. But I’d strongly question if this makes for a team that are set-up for 2019.

Resourcing digital comms as much as traditional is wonderful to hear.

I’m often saying that take inspiration from where you can.

Go look at Belfast.

Picture credit: Derek Flint /Flickr. 


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